Trying to sort through all that baggage

When my hus­band and I left on our hon­ey­moon dec­ades ago, we proudly car­ried the matched lug­gage that his sis­ter had giv­en us as a gift. The two suit­cases were hand­some in­deed — a strong leath­er set in pale taupe with shiny locks.

That lug­gage went with us on every trip we took, from run­away week­ends dur­ing the “She hit me first!” stage of par­ent­ing, to our first thrill­ing trip to an­oth­er con­tin­ent.

Slowly, the wear and tear began to show: a nick here, a bump there, a tear in the elast­i­cized in­teri­or pock­ets. But no mat­ter — the stuff was made to last a life­time. Or so we thought.

Then along came the years of three daugh­ters and their travels, mostly to col­lege dorm­it­or­ies where they dragged our be­loved pieces up creaky old stairs with aban­don.

“Be care­ful!” I had shrieked to Jill as she bounced the taupe suit­case that had seen me through years of wan­der­ings. “I love that suit­case!”

Amy’s treat­ment was no bet­ter.

And by the time it was Nancy’s turn to stuff her be­long­ings in­to trunks and suit­cases, our beau­ti­ful lug­gage was show­ing the same signs of wear as its own­ers.

But it wasn’t un­til re­cently that we caved in and ac­know­ledged that, yes, it was time to start all over again. And with the in­no­cence of lambs be­ing led to the slaughter, we set off to find an­oth­er “matched set.”

Little did we know that, in the land of lug­gage, noth­ing had stayed the same. Sud­denly, there was a lan­guage and a cul­ture we entered as lost im­mig­rants.

“May I help you?” asked a young man straight out of a Ral­ph Lauren ad at our first stop. In­deed, he could.

“We’d like to buy some suit­cases,” we said na­ively. “Maybe two that match.”

Our sales­man, sneer­ing slightly now, and talk­ing in the tone usu­ally re­served for chal­lenged learners, in­dic­ated that “suit­cases” was no longer the term of art.

There were, he in­toned, “nes­ted sets,” “trol­ley duffels,” “gar­ment bags” and “suit­er trol­leys.” There were even giz­mos called “trol­ley totes.”

But suit­cases evid­ently be­longed back in the era of black and white TVs and movies without rat­ings.

So we were on our jour­ney (such a fine meta­phor, after all) to lug­gage wis­dom, with our Ral­ph Lauren tour guide who clearly knew his “nes­ted sets” from his “trol­ley totes.”

One hour and fif­teen minutes later, my hus­band was test­ing zip­pers and locks on equip­ment that looked more suited to com­bat than to re­cre­ation­al travel, and I was play­ing with re­cessed handles that would al­low me to steer my trol­ley tote through air­ports with pan­ache and style.

We were con­sid­er­ing ma­ter­i­als with names we couldn’t re­cog­nize, and learn­ing the ex­quis­itely fine dis­tinc­tions between “carry-on” and “stow.” That dis­tinc­tion, we un­der­stood, could make the crit­ic­al dif­fer­ence between the all-too-fa­mil­i­ar dis­par­ity of us land­ing in Den­ver, and our bags land­ing in Dal­las.

Fi­nally, we got to the small is­sue of price. As in “pro­hib­it­ive,” “un­con­scion­able,” and “un­be­liev­able.”

Sud­denly (or was it?), lug­gage was cost­ing as much as our first trip to Am­s­ter­dam. A single piece in the line we de­cided most re­minded us of our wed­ding gift set had two ex­tra zer­oes in it.

It was at that point that we did something aw­ful. We bolted. Prom­ised to give it some thought, and get back to him.

On the way home, we com­for­ted ourselves with the thought that we had no im­me­di­ate travel plans any­way. 

We stopped to con­sole ourselves with ice cream cones. For­ti­fied by that sweet in­dul­gence, we also came to a bril­liant in­sight be­fore we even ar­rived home:

Now that our kids were world trav­el­ers them­selves, we could bor­row their lug­gage. We could rely on their im­press­ive com­fort with mod­ern cul­ture to fig­ure out pre­cisely which pieces met which product defin­i­tions. And giv­en their his­tory, we didn’t have to worry too much about how much ab­use that bor­rowed lug­gage might suf­fer.

Turn­about, after all, is fair play! ••

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